Part of the Indie Author Series
I was having lunch with a writer friend who plans to self publish a series. Of all the indie tasks, she was most overwhelmed by the dreaded F-Word. Formatting.
Believe me, I understand. I’d worried most about this as well. But now that I have two books out in the universe, I’ve come to realize that formatting is really simple.
If you’re trying to decide whether to format your own books or hire a freelancer, check out Understanding Your Ebook Formatting Options on this site by Marcy Kennedy.
Why am I writing a detailed post about formatting? Because there are so many parts to formatting that you already know without realizing it. My writer friend had no idea that formatting was something she’d already been doing as a writer and editor. She’d thought it was some mysterious task that only tech experts did in their basements.
Even non-technie carpool moms can do it--I’m living proof. Don’t let the details scare you. Instead, embrace the control you’re gaining by learning how to format your own books.
First, some nitty gritty basics:
- Once your manuscript has been edited and it’s ready for formatting, do a File>Save As. This way any changes you make will not alter the original document.
- Show Invisibles--in Apple Pages, which is what I use, it’s under View>Show Invisibles. You’ll likely see blue dots and symbols. You’ll use these to format.
What do those symbols mean?
- The paragraph symbol looks like a backward P -- like this ¶. Paragraph symbols should only be seen between paragraphs of your text. Remove any extra paragraphs.
- Space dots. In Apple Pages, the space dots are blue and show up between each word. Only one space dot should be between words and at the end of a sentence (not two, as we were taught in the old days). Remove any additional spaces. Remove dots at the end of paragraphs.
- In Apple Pages, page breaks are a long blue line with a bent page on the right (more about page breaks later). In Word, they’re identified by -----Page Break-----.
Notes about formatting:
- Auto Indents--indented paragraphs should be set up automatically, either using Page Layout or the ruler bar at the top of the page. Do not space five times.
- Left justified--for ebooks, the left side of the text should be justified. Leave the right jagged.
- Remove indent at the beginning of each chapter, and at the beginning of each paragraph after a scene break.
- Scene breaks can be noted with simple symbols, such as ***
- Page break after each chapter, so they don’t run together. Insert>Page Break.
Front matter and back matter:
Front and back matter are the text before and after the story. It’s where you can add valuable information for readers to click through, such as a newsletter sign up or social media links. It’s also where you can link for readers to leave a review on Goodreads and the book distributor’s web site (such as Amazon).
Authors have their own preferences for front and back matter. Here’s how I’ve set up my books. Note: put a page break between each section (or cluster of sections), so the pages don’t run together.
1. Title page with author name, centered. Do not upload your cover here. Covers are uploaded separately on the distributor’s web site.
2. Brief summary page. I’ve added a page with a short summary of the book. I think of this as the jacket copy, which isn’t available on ebooks. If readers bought the book a while ago and can’t remember what it’s about, this summary will remind them.
3. Dedication page. Who are you dedicating your book to? Keep it short and simple.
4. Table of contents. Ebooks have links to chapters, so that readers can jump between chapters easily. For details on how to link the TOC in Apple Pages, I’d highly recommend the ebook From Pages ’09 to Kindle Format in Minutes. It’s easy, but too detailed for this post. Here’s a link to help with Word 2013.
5. Story, from beginning to end. Reminder: insert page breaks between chapters.
6. Links to write a review. I create a different document for Amazon, Barnes and Noble, etc., with applicable links for each distributor. Readers who finish the Kindle version will see a link to leave a review on Amazon.
7. Links to other books you have for sale. If you’ve written a trilogy, you’ll link to books two and three at the end of book one. I’ve written stand alone books, but each book links to the other.
8. Social media links.
9. Acknowledgements. This is where you can get a little more wordy about who you want to thank. Family, literary agent, beta readers, first grade teacher, etc.
10. Copyright. This is the boring legal part, so I put it last. If you’re unsure about how to write your copyright page, look to another book and adapt it for your own use.
Whew! Boring, right? But so useful! Once you’ve learned how to format your own books, you can easily make changes whenever you want. For more details on formatting, check out Mark Coker’s free ebook Smashwords’ Style Guide or this formatting guide from KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing).
If you’ve indie published, did you format your own books? Is the fear of formatting ebooks preventing you from indie publishing? Any formatting tips you’d like to share?
Julie Musil writes from her rural home in Southern California, where she lives with her husband and three sons. She’s an obsessive reader who loves stories that grab the heart and won’t let go. Her Young Adult novels, The Summer of Crossing Lines and The Boy Who Loved Fire, are available now. For more information, or to stop by an say Hi, please visit Julie on her blog, on Twitter, and on Facebook.
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